On a breezy afternoon when it’s not outrageous to consider sitting outdoors, DJ Magnus pulls up a chair in the shade outside of his East Sarasota home and begins describing — with the unbridled enthusiasm of a former new-wave punk rocker — London’s nightclub scene in late 1980s.
Except that Magnus, 39, wasn’t there. Well, he was, and then again he wasn’t.
Born Alexander Magnus Boakes and raised in Brighton, England, outside of London, Magnus was shuffled to Sarasota before his 16th birthday. His parents craved warmth and white-sand beaches, and Magnus — as usual — craved music.
“There was no music scene here,” Magnus says wistfully, making a swooping gesture to illustrate the serenity of his East Sarasota County home. “I couldn’t even find a good record store.”
As a kid, he’d get lost for hours in the record store near his home in Brighton.
Wading in a sea of vinyl records, Magnus would run his hands over the smooth album covers, studying the names of obscure English synthpop bands and German electro groups.
“The ’80s were an exciting time,” Magnus says. “A lot of new sounds were developing, and then my parents moved and I missed the opportunity to discover more.”
The record store was an unlikely escape for a boy born deaf in one ear and with only partial hearing in his right. Yet the boy felt at home surrounded by records and the early pulsating sounds of electronic music.
“I developed an interest in music after I started playing the drums,” Magnus says. “But I was kind of under the impression that I couldn’t continue with the drums because I was deaf. It took me until I got my own turntables to realize if you’ve got a passion for something you should go for it no matter what people say.”
He graduated from Riverview High School in 1989 and two years later moved to Athens, Ga., where he studied international finance at the University of Georgia.
After college, Magnus moved back to London, where he began working for major and independent record labels in account management and finance — labels such as Virgin Records UK, EMI, MCI and Mushroom Records, for which he tracked and analyzed album sales.
At night, he would go clubbing to catch up on lost time.
Magnus, who by then had purchased his own turntables and amassed hundreds of records, would work the crowd, doggedly networking with club owners and fellow DJs.
Animated and outgoing, Magnus easily made friends. In a whir of strobe lights and sweaty dancers, he would stake out a spot near the mixing board and watch DJs spin vinyl for hours.
“I learned the basics,” Magnus says. “Of course, hearing DJs have an extra ear to work with.”
He says this with the playfulness of a man who has spent years defying his disability.
By 1994, he was playing his own gigs by beat-matching songs using only his hearing-impaired right ear.
The technique took him years to perfect.
Here’s why: DJs wear headphones that enable them to monitor both the track that’s playing and the track on deck. The blending of these tracks and rhythms is called beat-matching and Magnus developed a way to do it using only one ear.
“I had to disprove a lot of critics over the years,” says Magnus, who returned in 2005 to Sarasota. “They doubted my technical abilities. Those who believed in me encouraged me along. Those who didn’t, I made them speechless.”
He lowers his voice, untwists his legs and leans forward on his elbows.
“I think some people saw me and thought, ‘How in the hell did he just do that?’” Magnus says. “I always hand people my mixed CD and say, ‘Give it a listen.’ Most people say I’m better than most hearing DJs.”
Magnus’ mixes are his latest focus.
To fully grasp this, you need only set foot in the DJ’s above-garage production studio, a carpeted attic space filled with crates of records, a turntable, a keyboard, a tiny television set, a loveseat and speakers stacked as high as Magnus himself.
It’s where he spends most of his time, when he’s not working as an asset manager for Primerica, a financial services marketing organization, or as a Realtor for Coldwell Banker.
Two years ago, he landed his own program on WSLR radio. “Ignite Dance Sessions” is a two-hour segment devoted to disco, house, breaks and beats, which airs from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Thursday on the community radio station.
Like any recording artist, Magnus’ goal is to create mixes that spread. His dream is to spin a track that’s so danceable it becomes a staple at clubs across the world.
“At this point, what I do is more like a sixth sense,” he says, patting his chest. “It comes out of my heart. Through constant playing and practice, the music has grown — within me and out of me.”
DJ Magnus' Top Musical Influences
Pet Shop Boys
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].